Abu Dhabi, capital of change

It seems every time you turn a corner in the capital, something new has popped up. We look at all the ways the island is turning into a destination for businesses, athletes, professionals, tourists - and those who already live here.

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These can be confusing times for the unwary traveller from Abu Dhabi.

The traveller returns home and finds that the landscape has changed, sometimes so fundamentally that it can appear unrecognisable. New roads, new destinations, sometimes even entire new districts. Capital Gate, Al Gurm, Al Raha Beach, Sowwah Island. Is this even still the same city?

Take something as simple as the road to the international airport. Three years ago, the taxi driver (a battered gold and white car) would head out along 8th Street, leave the island on the Maqta Bridge and follow the signs for Al Ain.

Last year came the opening of the Sheikh Khalifa highway, a 20-kilometre short cut from the Tourist Club district via Saadiyat and Yas Island that could deliver you to the check-in desk at the new Terminal 3 in less than half an hour.

Now the savvy traveller will direct the silver taxi east to the eight-lane bypass that incorporates the new Sheikh Zayed Bridge before exiting just past the giant glass coin of the Aldar headquarters, while keeping Masdar City on his right.

These changes do not just alter Abu Dhabi's skyline; they shift the city on its axis. Many of the most spectacular new developments are taking place on isles to the east of the island (or more correctly, the north-east). The towers of Reem Island are already visible from many kilometres away. Beneath them is a marina, with cafes and shops, and a campus for the Sorbonne.

Nearby, the new business heart of the city is already taking shape on Sowwah Island. Beyond that, of course, is Saadiyat, soon to be home not just to the new cultural district with its museums and galleries, but beach resorts, villas and hotels. To the west, the Capital Gate building has already earned the affectionate nickname "the leaning tower of Abu Dhabi". To the north, the Emirates Towers will offer spectacular views over the city while the old dhow yards will be reborn as a fisherman's wharf-style marina. Such is the pace of construction that it forces

us to redefine what we thought we knew even a few months ago. The villas of Al Raha Gardens at first seemed so remote that they might be in another city. Likewise, Yas Island was an expedition for the adventurous beyond the boundaries of the known world (or at least Carrefour and the Shangri-La Hotel). But not anymore.

Next time you pass that way, check the time by your watch. Barely a dozen minutes connects it to the centre of the city. When Salam Street is completed early next year, the Corniche becomes an easy commute.

The map of the city as it is laid out here is an indication of how fast and how extensively the city is changing. What only months ago was an artist's rendering or hoarding around a worksite is suddenly a concrete reality. The new Abu Dhabi has not quite emerged overnight, but it sometimes seems that way.




Etihad Towers

Rising above the Emirates Palace hotel, the five towers, with the tallest at 300 metres, are already a distinctive addition to the city's skyline. First to open is the Jumeirah Emirates Towers, a luxury hotel with an observation deck offering panoramic views over the city. The development also includes luxury apartments and a conference centre.

Fisherman's Marina Al Bateen

Once the site of the city's tradition dhow shipyards, Al Bateen is thought to be the oldest continuously inhabited district in Abu Dhabi. Once completed, it will feature berths for more than 300 fishing boats and a fisherman's community centre. A network of walkways and the five-star Al Bateen Wharf Hotel and Apartments complete what will be a major tourist attraction.

Mushrif Mall

Now in the final stages of construction, the 18,000-square-metre mall promises the city's largest indoor food market and a Lulu Hypermarket, along with at least 200 retail outlets.

Al Gurm

With about 70 luxury waterfront villas, Al Gurm extends into the western mangroves and offers an escape from the city despite being adjacent to Khaleej Al Arabi Street and the exhibition centre. The development also includes a resort hotel, spa and private moorings, but promises to protect the local wildlife. see story, hh4

Capital Gate Tower

One of the most distinctive new buildings in the city, Capital Gate is already affectionately known as "the leaning tower of Abu Dhabi." In fact, the 160-metre tower and five-star hotel already holds the title of the "world's furthest leaning manmade structure", eclipsing the 700-year-old Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Raha Beach

Labelled by the developers Aldar as "the ultimate waterfront city", this massive multibillion-dirham development will eventually stretch along 11 kilometres of beach front, with 120,000 residents, marinas and shopping malls. First to be completed is al Bandar, a horseshoe of distinctive wedge-shaped luxury apartment blocks clear with views towards Yas Island and due to open early in the New Year.

Angsana Resort

Overlooking the eastern mangroves, construction of this luxury resort and spa is already well advanced and a major landmark on the road into the city. Due for completion later in 2011, the Angsana will feature a marina and apartments as well as conference facilities, 223 hotel rooms and restaurants.

Salam Street

One of the most ambitious infrastructure projects the city has ever taken, the final stage of Salam Street is due for completion in 2011 with a 3.2-kilometre tunnel from Al Falah to the Mina area. Already open is the section from the junction with Defence Road to the Sheikh Zayed Bridge. Once finished, it will be possible to drive the length of the island without a single traffic light. see story, mo4

Park Hyatt Saadiyat

A five-star hotel, the Park Hyatt will form part of the Saadiyat Beach Course and is due to open next year. It will feature private villas and luxury chalets, along with restaurants, a spa and landscaped gardens with waterfalls. Nine hotels in total will line the beach. see story, t3

Guggenheim and Louvre

Two of the most iconic names in the museum world will anchor the new cultural district on Saadiyat Island. Work on land reclamation and the foundations is well advanced with both institutions due to open to the public sometime before 2014, followed by the Zayed National Museum.

Sowwah Island

At least 100,000 people will live and work on the new commercial heart of the city, currently under construction. Prominent tenants will include the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange, the National Bank of Abu Dhabi and the Cleveland Clinic. Three five-star hotels, including the Four Seasons, will be accessible across 13 bridges and, eventually, a metro- and light-rail system. see story, pf4

Central Market

The new souq is already in business, with more shops and cafes opening in the New Year. Emporium, a new shopping centre featuring luxury brands, will follow while the 298- metre Trust Tower rising above the project will feature a hotel and offices. see fashion, magazine